Sunday, September 11, 2011

Unholy Or Not, It Sure Is Full Of Holes

Barely two weeks in office, is Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai already so firmly entrenched on the defensive side of the field? No one has the power to bring down his government, Bhattarai is said to retort every time someone of any consequence broaches the oddity of the alliance he sits atop.
Bhattarai’s defiance, to be sure, contains a stronger tinge of displeasure than determination. After all, no less a personage than Communications Minister Jaya Prakash Prasad Gupta of the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) insists that the government is already heading down the path to failure.
In the midst of this brouhaha, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Bhattarai’s staunchest ally – at least in public – goes ‘missing’ for almost 48 hours. Gupta, the most outspoken critic of the government from within, may be embittered by Bhattarai’s failure to grant him one of the deputy premierships. But let’s not forget that Gupta has become quite close to Dahal in recent weeks.
Critics of all colors are finding enough dirt to tar the ruling alliance. And the muck seems likely to stick the hardest on the man on the top. Most of the UDMF ministers bring a distinct reputation, for better or worse, to their latest jobs. The Maoist ministers, too, have become sort of known quantities. The cleanest slate belongs to Bhattarai. Unfortunately for him, it’s also the easiest to blemish.
The legislative numbers game apart, what make the motions of this alliance interesting is its interlocking antagonisms. If the Dahal-Bhattarai decision to hand over the keys to the Maoists’ arms containers has made Mohan Baidya livid, Gupta blames the Maoist squabbling for non-compliance with the four-point pact that sealed the coalition.
Baidya, however, sees the commitments as reflected on paper as an unmitigated threat to the nation. Specifically, he has disdain for the manner in which his party rivals agreed to establish a separate group for Madhesis in the national army while virtually surrendering away the right of wholesale entry of former Maoist soldiers into the state force. (You can quibble with the way Baidya seeks to establish equivalence between rebels and regular folks, but one point cannot be missed: the Maoist fighters have already proved their mettle).
Asked by a reporter for a leading daily whether the peculiarity of the ruling alliance would ultimately help him to revive his party’s nationalist plank, Baidya dodged. Yet his chuckles (which the interviewer made a point of inserting in the published piece) said it all. Anticipating irreparable rifts within the Maoists, some Nepali Congress and CPN-UML leaders have spoken of their readiness to prop up the Bhattarai government. At the same time, rival factions in each of the two principal opposition parties are becoming more candid in calling the Maoist-UDMF pact unholy.
The Gaur massacre brought out our north-south divide in gory vividness. A coalition that could have stood as a symbol of a much-needed healing process has brought back spasms of that pain – with the complicity of those who complain about it.